I drove slowly around the Ohanapecosh campsite loop at Mt. Rainier National Park. My bike was on the roof rack and my loaded panniers were on the back seat. I was looking for a travel companion Id never met. I sighted the bikes first. The picnic table at the site was strewn with plastic bags, panniers, damp clothes, and camping gear. Zeke and his dad Joel greeted me.
Joel had accompanied his son, who had begun his trip at the border of Mexico, from Crater Lake to Mt. Rainier. I was the next leg of the tag team of 11 individuals who would help an underage kid attain his goal of riding Adventure Cycling Associations Sierra Cascades Route from Mexico to Canada.
We barely got through introductions when Joel had to leave. He put his bike up on my Subaru, thanked me for being willing to be part of the adventure, and left for Seattle. He would be flying back to Berkeley early the next morning.
I was left sitting next to a kid who had contacted me via email four and a half months earlier.
Editors Note: If you havent read Willies introduction to Zeke in the June issue of Adventure Cyclist, its a good first stop. Well wait.
Zeke Part 2
Story and Photos by Willie Weir
20 ADVENTURE CYCLIST july 2015
Zeke is 13, but his size makes him appear younger. He weighs 77 pounds soaking wet. His hormones havent kicked in so, despite his thousands of miles of cycling, his legs are sticks. He doesnt have the upper body strength to successfully use a floor pump. I had to help him push down on the plunger.
But anyone who meets Zeke and concludes that he is just a typical, Xbox-addicted, couch-dwelling, middle-school kid would be in for a mind-blowing surprise.
My first experience with Zekes stamina came not on the bike but on a trail not far from our Mt. Rainier campsite. Zeke took off on a steeply pitched trail, walking at a pace that had me periodically breaking into a jog to keep up. He engaged me in conversa-tion while I tried to cover up the fact that I was breathing heavily. Two miles straight up the mountain and he still hadnt slowed down. We turned around because it was getting late, In truth, I was running out of gas.
I lay in my tent that evening after Zeke and I had dined on the kosher
hot dogs he had requested I bring from Seattle and fell asleep to the soothing aroma of the forest. We woke up just before dawn, ate some figs, nuts, cream cheese, and bread, and hit the road.
Zeke rides a humble GT Transeo 4.0 cross bike with front and rear panniers stuffed with gear equal to 75 percent of his body weight. No fancy clipless sys-tem, no cages and toe clips, just plain flat pedals. He often rides in sandals.
Zeke, often out of the saddle, rocks back and forth on those pedals like a possessed gym rat on a Stairmaster. When I first saw him ride, it made me nervous. Then I remembered that hed managed just fine with this unique style for thousands of miles. It seems as though he can maintain this her-ky-jerky style forever.
When Zeke was 12 you know, ages ago he and his best friend Jacob decided that they were going to walk all the paths in Berkeley in one day. Thats 36 miles and over 5,000 feet of elevation gain. They mapped it all out, even orga-nizing the adults who would meet them at major intersections to help them cross.
Before we met, I worried that I wouldnt be able to relate to a 13-year-old. What would we talk about? I would soon learn not to worry.
We talked politics, theatre, literature, and the environment (Zeke was raising money for the San Francisco Bay chap-ter of the Sierra Club on this ride).
I learned that Zeke loved to read. Thats a bit of an understatement. Zeke reads no, absorbs hundreds of books each year.
As we pedaled along the canyon road between Yakima and Ellensburg, Wash-ington, Zeke asked me, Whats your favorite book by Hemingway?
My mind stumbled to think of which of Hemingways books Id read. To stall, I threw back a question.
Which books have you read?All of them. Twice.This was early enough in my time
with Zeke that I was skeptical. Really?Except that somewhere along one of
our many climbs, Zeke rattled off some of his favorite passages from Heming-way, Steinbeck, and Shakespeare.
As we pedaled though 100-de-
gree-plus heat in eastern Washington, Zeke recited Macbeths dagger speech with a twist. He had rewritten it to the theme of cycling up a false summit.
At one point, he quoted a paragraph from another book, and, embarrass-ingly, he was halfway through before I realized it was mine.
His ability to capture and retain details is astounding.
Zeke, how many mountain passes have you climbed on this trip?
Thirty-one.Then, without pause, he listed them
in order. I quickly fell into Zekes routine.
Its probably not one Id choose at this point in my travel career, but it was one I was comfortable with.
Up at dawn, light breakfast, no stove. Pedal for 20 to 40 miles, then stop at a diner for second breakfast. Go 30 to 50 more miles and stop some-where for lunch. Finish the day at a campsite or scampsite.
We camped in campgrounds most nights. But Zeke was eager to initiate kindness, my term for knocking on doors to ask for a place to camp. Zekes other companions had balked at the idea, so when Lake Chelan appeared too touristy for both of our likings, we pedaled on down the Columbia River looking for the opportunity to initiate. We spotted a trailer home up on a hill with a beautiful orchard below. We walked our bikes up the drive.
It was owned by a couple, originally from Mexico, who had bought the run-down property and developed the or-chard. The womans husband was away on one of his many shifts at Walmart.
When we asked about camping, she said the only places she knew were back at Lake Chelan. Then we asked about pitching our tents in their orchard. She hadnt even considered that, but the moment we asked, she offered their land with a big smile.
Please pick as much fruit as youd like. I hope our dog wont bother you.
Pachuca, their dog, was so excited to have guests that it took a concerted effort to keep her out of our tents.
Her husband and Pachuca came out to see us off early the next morning. It was gorgeous and still, the Columbia was glass.
22 ADVENTURE CYCLIST july 2015
We often rode apart, but when traf-fic allowed, wed ride side by side and inevitably Zeke would call out.
Ive got a joke for you. An inter-state walks into a bar
Zekes jokes (many of which he learned from his father) are long, drawn out, and horrible in a good way. When you have 60 to 90 miles to cover in a day, theres plenty of time for a 25-minute joke, or 10, with punch lines that elicit more groans than laughter.
Due to the Carlton Complex fire (the worst fire in Washingtons record-ed history), we didnt know if wed be able continue on the Sierra Cascades Route. But the winds subsided and the
fire had been controlled enough for the road through Twisp and beyond to open up.
Just beyond Winthrop on the North Cascades Highway is a wonderful stop, Bicycle Barn Camping, which allows bike travelers exclusively to pitch their tents. It was a grand stop for us both. It happened to fall on my birthday. Kat and our dog Tiva drove up from Seattle to meet us. She brought beer for me, ice cream and a frittata for all of us, and, most important of all, a Kindle for Zeke.
Zekes Kindle had ceased function-ing before we met up. This would have been an inconvenience for some. For a voracious reader, it was a full-on drive-train disaster. Zeke had been forced to
read and re-read the one physical book he was carrying, The Third Chimpanzee by Jared Diamond.
We immediately went back to Win-throp to locate wifi, and Zeke down-loaded his current library of over 250 books. All was well.
I turned 53 in that campground and realized that I was four decades older than my travel companion. Zeke read a book. I read the back of my eyelids.
We cycled over Rainy Pass on the North Cascades Highway and camped at a rundown private campsite by the Cascade River. It was getting late, and I looked over and saw Zeke lying in the dirt. I thought, Wow! We finally rode far enough to tire the kid out. He didnt
Top left: Lunch? Or is that second breakfast? Bottom left: Initiating kindness relaxing at a beautiful orchard campsite. Right: The North Cascades loom in the distance (the last of many mountain passes along the Sierra Cascades Route).
even have the energy to set up his tent.I walked over to wake him up and
came upon Zeke with his eyes wide open reading his Kindle. Ninety sec-onds before dark, Zeke got up, pitched his tent, and disappeared inside.
It was our final riding day before we hit the Canadian border, and Zeke knew of my love for ice cream so he made sure we stopped at the Acme Diner in Acme, Washington. Its a 1950s-style diner with round stool seats along a tile-lined bar. They make their own ice cream. Zeke had a scoop. I had two. The perky server handed me the check, and I immediately handed it to Zeke. He got out his wallet, looked at the bill, and handed over his Visa card.
The server didnt address Zeke. She spoke to me.
Is that his? she asked, referring to the credit card.
Sure is.That is sooo cute.Zeke didnt react. He paid the bill,
thanked her, and we walked out. As we were unlocking our bikes, I
looked at Zeke and said, That has to get old.
Ill never forget his response.To be honest, Willie, I didnt leave
her the same tip I left the server at breakfast. Adequate, but not as much.
We continued to the border town of Sumas, Washington
I asked Zeke You have a passport, dont you?
No. I forgot it. Its okay though. You can just take a photo near customs.
We pedaled up to the border. Several car lanes were open. There was a sign that had a Canadian flag so we parked our bikes and I snapped a couple of photos of Zeke.
It seemed so anticlimactic. If anyone deserved to cross the Canadian border that day, it was Zeke.
I glanced at nearly a hundred cars waiting in line and thought, Maybe when there is a break I can jog over to the closest booth and explain our plight. I took two steps and the border official was already out the door of his booth, yelling over the idling cars.
I saw you take several photos. What is your intention.
I began to tell him Zekes story, but he cut me off, Follow the walkway into
24 ADVENTURE CYCLIST july 2015
that building and state your intention, he directed. Zeke and I quickly obeyed his command.
The office was quiet and nearly empty. Only one window was open, and I approached the man behind the protective glass, told Zekes story, and explained our situation. We only want-ed to cross the border to take a photo and then return to the U.S.
What does your friend have as iden-tification? I was asked.
I said with as much conviction as I could muster, Sir, he has an ID card from his mid-dle school in Berke-ley. The mans face fell. Im sorry. This is my first week on the job. It just isnt possible.
Thats okay. We understand, I said.
Wait. I could get my supervisor.
He called her out of her office, and in the most polite tone Ive ever heard from a bor-der official, she asked how she could help us.
I laid out the story with Zeke filling in details.
You pedaled all the way from the border of Mexico? Of course well get you across the border. But it cant be very far.
We walked out of the building, and she walked us across the border.
Across the way, there is a sign that says Welcome to British Columbia. Will that do?
Zeke and I walked our bikes over to the manicured lawn (everything is so neat and pristine in Canada). I snapped a bunch of photos of Zeke and his bike. I looked back, and here came our border official with another woman in uniform.
We decided we wanted a photo too, she called out. They positioned them-selves on either side of Zeke.
I looked through my view finder. Now this was a photo worthy of the accom-plishment: the smiling border officials in their crisp blue uniforms, complete with sidearms, batons, and radios posing next to a young man with his bike (gear spilling out of the panniers) dressed in a
white and teal long-sleeved shirt, covered in dirt stains from three states, his fist raised in triumph.
Amber, our border angel, asked us to wait a few minutes before crossing back over. She needed to call the U.S. border patrol and explain why they needed to let a young cyclist enter the U.S. with noth-ing more than a school ID card.
The guy who greeted us at the U.S. border office had the ex-Marine look:
buzz cut, bulging biceps, chiseled jaw. It was immediately apparent that he had talked with Amber. With a huge grin on his face, he asked Zeke, You rode that bike all the way from the border of Mexico?
He asked Zeke a series of questions as he entered our information into his com-puter. He suddenly paused and chuckled. You arent going to believe this, but you (meaning Zeke) just came up for a ran-dom search.
So he escorted Zeke out to the parking lot for the search while I made comments from the sidelines.
You dont want to open that pannier! He has clothes in there that havent been washed since California.
He cleared Zeke and walked back inside. I had to go in to retrieve my passport. Our rough-and-tumble border official was in the midst of telling the whole office Zekes story.
It was the most affable border crossing
I have ever been or likely will ever be involved in.
Zeke and I celebrated his accomplish-ment in a way we both felt was appropri-ate. We dined at a Mexican restaurant on the U.S./Canada border.
It took us two days to pedal to Seattle via Bellingham and Whidbey Island. We pedaled right up to my door where Kat and Tiva greeted us. Zeke spent the night, and in the morning after breakfast, Kat
sent Zeke off with clean clothes and a couple of loaves of good bread.
At 10:30 am, Seth pulled up on his loaded touring bike, another bike companion Zeke had never met in per-son. There was barely time for introductions; they had a ferry to catch. (Zeke had opted to pedal back to Califor-nia via the Oregon coast instead of taking the bus.) I watched as they both pedaled up the insanely steep hill near our home and disap-peared over the crest.
Ten days earlier, I had worried that I wouldnt be able to relate to this
kid. Hell, I missed him already.Zeke is one of the most well-read,
well-rounded, passionate, ethical, intel-ligent human beings Ive ever had the pleasure of traveling with. And now that Ive met his father, mother, and younger brother (Kat and I later visited them in Berkeley), I have more of an idea about why Zeke is the person he is.
Where will lifes path take Zeke? I have no idea, but the skys the limit for this extraordinary young man. I look forward to following his journeys, whatever they are and wherever they take him.
The tables have turned. Ive become the fan.
If all has gone according to plan (believe me, Zeke has a plan), as you read this articl...